Opening Up the Bible
8. The Letters and Revelation 2008
St. Paul Lutheran Church, Cambridge ON
Sunday June 8 2008
Children's Message Preparation:
- PDA with file of ringing – after a few seconds
Start pda file of ringing phone
-So glad you're here...
-Did you hear that? ...
-There it is again.
-I think I'd better get it. (Answers phone)
-Yes, that's right, we're all here. All  of us.
-But do you realize that we're in the middle of the
-Well, sure. I guess I could do that.
-You're welcome. Bye, Lord
-Boy, that was weird.
-Any idea what that was about? ....
-It was about you;
that's why I said “We're all heare. All  of us.]
-God was on the phone,
and God wants me to give you a message:
-God said that he's glad you're here, too!
-Today we're talking about the part of the Bible
that is letters.
-Not letters like A, B, C.
-But letters like postcards that come in the mail.
-Most of them were written by a man named Paul
-And the funny thing about reading these letters
is that it's a bit like
hearing one side of a phone conversation –
like you just did when I answered the phone.
-It's clear what I said,
but you're not so sure
just what it is that I'm responding to.
-When we read Paul's letters,
it's clear enough what he wrote,
but what we don't know a whole lot about
is the people he's writing to,
and what kind of situations he's responding to
when he writes.
-Anyway, St. Paul was a hero in the Bible.
-He did so much work in spreading the Good News
about God's love freely given in Christ Jesus.
-But did you know
that Paul wasn't always so helpful to God?
-Let me read you a story about Paul,
whose name in Hebrew sounds like “Saul.”
Read Saul story from scroll
-So the one who was once persecuting Jesus
became one who told everybody about Jesus!
-And almost half of the New Testament
was written by Paul.
Thanking God for coming to us to help us change into followers and sharers. Amen.
Handout Paul story sheets....
-Last week in our “Opening Up the Bible” series
we turned to the New Testament,
and focused on the 4 Gospels.
-Each gospel is written by a different person,
in a different situation,
and at a different time.
-Each gospel writer crafts details of the story
to meet the needs and interests
of the people of his day.
-Mark writes in times of suffering
about a compassionate Jesus who feels with us.
-Matthew is written for a Jewish community
and highlights Jesus as the fulfiller of God's law.
is written at a time the church is expanding,
and to support that change in understanding,
Luke's Gospel brings us a message of
grace and forgiveness, hope and inclusion
-And John's gospel, the last of the four to be written,
restates the gospel for a Greek community
which is battling a heresy called gnosticism.
-We are blessed to have these similar-yet-different
for each will speak to us at particular times and places
and situations within our own lives.
-Today we turn to the remaining books of the
the Letters or Epistles,
and then in the Sending Thought,
the Revelation of St. John.
-Paul was one of Christianity's first missionaries,
and many of the New Testament books are his letters,
written to some of the house-churches
he had helped to start.
-Scholars think that the earliest of Paul's letters
is what we call his “First Letter to the Thessalonians.”
-That letter was so well-received
that it was shared with other congregations.
-Eventually, the church recognized various epistles
as being especially meaningful,
and in time, they came to be included in our Bible.
-The letters are grouped into three sections:
- first, those written to communities –
such as the church in Thessalonika and Corinth;
- second, those written to individuals –
such as the letters to Titus and Timothy;
-and third the general letters –
such as those bearing the names of James, or
Peter, or John.
-Withing these 3 groupings,
the letters are arranged longest to shortest.
-Scholars believe that some of the letters
bearing Paul's name
were not actually written by Paul.
-Likely they were written by students of Paul,
who honoured their teacher
by listing him as the author.
-That was a common practise in antiquity.
-So it's generally believed
that the letters to Timothy and Titus
were not written by Paul himself,
and there is some thought
that the letters to the Ephesians, Colossians,
and the second letter to the Thessalonians
might have been authored by those following in
-Almost all of the epistles
were written to specific recipients
in specific situations.
-But we don't know all that much
about the specific situations.
-Have you ever listened to one end
of a telephone conversation,
and wondered what the person you couldn't hear
was saying or asking?1
-Reading the New Testament letters
is a bit like that:
almost all of Paul's letters
seem to be written in response to questions or issues
in the early church.
wouldn't it be interesting and helpful
to know more about the situation to which Paul refers
in I Corinthians 6.6-9
(Page 225 NT, Good News Bible)
6 Instead, one Christian goes to court against another and lets unbelievers judge the case!
7 The very fact that you have legal disputes among yourselves shows that you have failed completely. Would it not be better for you to be wronged? Would it not be better for you to be robbed?8 Instead, you yourselves wrong one another and rob one another, even your own brothers and sisters!
-This is Paul's response to an apparent report,
or perhaps a question,
about Christians taking one another to court.
-But that's about all we know
regarding this specific situation.
-If you were to imagine a letter
written from a child at camp to his mother,
you'd probably envision it starting something like this:
Monday July 7
How are you? I'm fine.
Yesterday ... and so on
Your Son, Junior
-Paul, too, used a typical letter format of his day,
but he expanded it to express his faith.
- “Ancient Greek letters customarily began
with the names of the sender and the recipient,
and a short greeting.”2
-The earliest of Paul's letters, 1st Thessalonians,
begins on page 275 in the Good News Bible.
-The senders are “Paul, Silas, and Timothy,”
and the recipients are “the people in the church
who belong to God the Father, and the Lord
-Note that for the greeting,
Paul combines the typical Hebrew greeting of peace
(shalom in Hebrew),
with the typical Greek greeting “Grace”.
- “May grace and peace be yours” writes Paul.
-And that reflects the church of his day:
a church that began with Jews,
but had now reached out to Greeks.
-In ancient letters,
the salutation was followed by a short prayer of
or sometimes a prayer
for those to whom the letter was sent.
-When Paul writes his thanksgiving,
it's always based upon the theme
of the rest of the letter.
-In that way, it's like our “Prayer of the Day”
near the beginning of worship:
it gathers up the themes about to be discussed.
in the thanksgiving of I Thessalonians 1.10,
Paul says “wait for his Son to come from heaven.”
-That will be Paul's theme in chapters 4 and 5,
in which he answers
questions from the congregation
about when Christ will return,
and about those who have died before Christ returns.
-There is one time, however,
when Paul deviates from his customary template.
-When writing to the church in Galatia,
Paul omits the Thanksgiving!
-The Letter to the Galatians starts on page 250
of the Good News Bible.
-There you'll see that Paul starts in typical fashion
“from Paul ... [and] the brothers who are here ...
to the churches of Galatia ... grace and peace.”
-But then Paul launches straight into
the body of the letter!
-Instead of giving thanks,
Paul writes in verse 6:
“I am surprised at you!
In no time at all,
you are deserting the one who called you
by the grace of Christ...”
-Paul gets straight to the point,
which is –
as Paul will later proclaim in chapter 3 verse 24 –
24 ... the Law was in charge of us until Christ came, in order that we might then be put right with God through faith.25 Now that the time for faith is here, the Law is no longer in charge of us.
26 It is through faith that all of you are God’s children in union with Christ Jesus.27 You were baptized into union with Christ, and now you are clothed, so to speak, with the life of Christ himself.28 So there is no difference between Jews and Gentiles, between slaves and free people, between men and women; you are all one in union with Christ Jesus.
-And then Paul goes into his great treatise
on Christian freedom in chapter 5:
“Freedom is what we have!
Do not allow yourselves to become slaves again!”
-Some in the Galatian church
seem to have been insisting
that in order to be a true Christian,
one had to obey the law of Moses.
-Paul is so shocked
that he omits the usual thanksgiving from his response.
-Just like the four gospels,
the letters of the New Testament
were written to specific recipients
in specific situations.
-The gospels and letters have stood the test of time.
-They have been chosen by the church
because they both witness to, and bear,
God's redeeming love and grace.
-We are blessed to have these similar-yet-different
for each will speak to us
at particular times and places and situations
within our own lives.
-Thanks be to God! Amen!
#815 I Want to Walk as a Child of the Light
Sending Thought: The Revelation of John
-The final book in our New Testament,
the Revelation of John,
was written near the end of the first century.
-At that point in time,
Christians were being persecuted.
-In times of persecution,
a type of writing called “apocalypse” was common.
-In veiled form for safety,
apocalyptic writings interpret then-current events.
-Due to the danger inherent in criticizing any
despotic ruling government,
apocalyptic literature bears its message indirectly,
through symbols and signs.
-An apocalypse contains hidden meanings
which would only be understood
by those to whom it was addressed.
-The Revelation of John is an example
of apocalyptic literature.
is not written to predict the future,
and it's a misuse to interpret it that way.
-The main purpose of apocalyptic literature
is to give people hope
in the midst of current persecution,
encouraging them to remain faithful,
for we know that God is always working,
using imperfect, and even evil people
to bring about God's purposes.
-In this context
of encouraging God's people during suffering
listen to these words of comfort
from first and final chapters of The Revelation of John:
Chapter 1.9 I am John, your brother, and as a follower of Jesus I am your partner in patiently enduring the suffering that comes to those who belong to his Kingdom. I was put on the island of Patmos because I had proclaimed God’s word and the truth that Jesus revealed.10 On the Lord’s day the Spirit took control of me, and I heard a loud voice, that sounded like a trumpet, speaking behind me.11 It said, “Write down what you see, and send the book to the churches in these seven cities: Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea.” ...
Chapter 21.1 Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth. The first heaven and the first earth disappeared, and the sea vanished.2 And I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared and ready, like a bride dressed to meet her husband.3 I heard a loud voice speaking from the throne: “Now God’s home is with human beings! He will live with them, and they shall be his people. God himself will be with them, and he will be their God.4 He will wipe away all tears from their eyes. There will be no more death, no more grief or crying or pain. The old things have disappeared.”
5 Then the one who sits on the throne said, “And now I make all things new!” He also said to me, “Write this, because these words are true and can be trusted.”6 And he said, “It is done! I am the first and the last, the beginning and the end. To anyone who is thirsty I will give the right to drink from the spring of the water of life without paying for it.
The Benediction follows ....
1Jackie Nunns: Opening Up the Bible, December 2004. Page 22.
2The New Oxford Annotated Bible, NRSV. Edited by Bruce M. Metzger and Roland E. Murphy. New York, 1991. Oxford University Press. Note on Romans 1.1-7